6 Reasons to Pack Out Your Dirty Toilet Paper by Mandy "Veggie" Redpath

6 Reasons to Pack Out Your Dirty Toilet Paper by Mandy "Veggie" Redpath

Let’s face it…it always sucks to arrive at a trailhead and see little bits of white and brown for the first quarter mile. 


As outdoor spaces get a usage boost, they become a casualty of toilet paper.  These man-made flowers crop up more and more in high-use areas and it’s not ok.


Don’t believe me? Read on for 6 reasons why you should pack out your dirty toilet paper.

  1. No One Likes TP Flowers

The toilet paper problem affects all of us.  Day hikers, weekend warriors, section hikers, and thru-hikers have all seen areas trashed with excess dirty toilet paper.  It’s often around trailheads, popular viewpoints, or common campsites where there should be a privy and there isn’t.


There is no reality where someone likes this.  You can only turn a blind eye for so long.


However, how can we all complain if we don’t all pack out our toilet paper?  If you bury toilet paper, you are part of the problem.  It’s important to recognize this and be a part of the solution instead of perpetuating what we all dislike.


Therefore, we should all band together and pack out our dirty TP. 


toilet paper left on the ground

  1. Realistically, Your Toilet Paper DOESN’T Decompose Fast Enough

If you are hiking in the overall wet Appalachian Mountains, you could reasonably assume your toilet paper would decompose in 1-3 years, according to this article by Backpacker Magazine


HOWEVER, that is assuming no animals dig it up in the meantime.  It’s possible that one will in 1-3 years, especially if it’s not buried deep enough.


That’s also not including the increased number of poos happening from the increased number of hikers. 


If you’re hiking in areas without ideal decomposition rates, that toilet paper will live in the ground for several more years.  Alpine environments above treeline will decompose very slowly.  The same goes for desert environments. 

  1. Even “Properly Buried” TP Could Be Dug Up by Animals

It’s a common misconception that if you bury your toilet paper along with your poos 6”-8” deep that it will stay buried.


Sometimes it might, but more often it won’t. 


This especially affects popular areas like trailheads and viewpoints.  Everyone starts at a trailhead and hikes to a viewpoint.  Thus, people spend more time in those two locations than in the space in between them. 


While people get situated in the trailhead parking lot, they eat snacks, drop crumbs, and go to behind the nearby bush.  The same thing happens at viewpoints: hikers sit down, eat, and go behind the bush. 


That’s why those areas in particular have BOTH the most toilet paper and the most critters.  I’m looking at all of you who feed the cute chipmunk (which you shouldn’t).


Even if your bury that toilet paper 6”-8” deep, that chipmunk or another motivated critter can and will easily dig that up.  Not only chipmunks will unbury your TP for an extra snack.  Marmots, badgers, bears, shrews, mice, and many others can smell your poo and its food smells.  If you’ve ever seen a bear flip a boulder or dead log to find a grub, you’ll know that 6” of dirt won’t stop it. 


Protect wildlife by packing out your TP... they don’t need to eat it buried or on the surface.

  1. Your Pee has Salt that Animals Want

Think back to the last very hot day where you went on a hike.  You probably had some type of electrolytes: Gatorade, propel, liquid IV, etc. 


Those things don’t happen naturally often.  Mountain goats and bighorn sheep climb to great heights for salt deposits on cliffsides.  Ranchers use salt licks to get their cows to inhabit certain areas more frequently.  Less skilled hunters use salt licks to habituate deer to an area near a blind they’ve set up to shoot them easily. 


But, you pee out salt every pee and animals will seek that out.  It’s like when critters eat your cork hiking pole handles when you leave them out at night.  They are actually trying to eat the salt from your sweat that has soaked into the cork.


Point being: the salt in your pee attracts animals.  That is part of why some poos get unburied AND why ladies who pee and leave surface toilet paper are part of the problem.  Unburied toilet paper with urine attracts animals for the salt and they don’t need to eat our toilet paper. 

  1. There are Reusable Options!

So, you want to be part of the solution?  Why use disposable when you can go reusable? 


Let’s talk about reusable options to decrease the toilet paper use before it even gets outside.  Just like most of us have reusable water bottle bottles, there are reusable bathroom cleaning options.


First, a kula cloth or a wander wipe offer fantastic alternatives to hikers with vaginas.  They’re both anti-microbial and washable!  In my experience, they do need to be rinsed at least every 3 days.  I use filtered water to rinse mine away from a stream in between towns. 


This will drastically reduce the bulk surface toilet paper.  I get it, ladies…it’s important to wipe after you pee.  Just make it reusable and washable.  And before you ask, no it doesn’t smell.


Second, try a bidet if you’re so inclined and are hiking in areas with lots of water.  This option, when done correctly, can drastically reduce or eliminate toilet paper and wet wipes from your system.  Depending on how much your TP kit usually weighs, it can also decrease weight!


Lastly, if you still like your Charmin and wet wipes, simply pack it out.  I’ve been packing out toilet paper for a long time and it hardly adds any extra weight.  And no, it doesn’t smell.


I like to make a “poo kit” up in advance.  I start by rolling my toilet paper into rolls where I divide a normal roll of TP into 4 smaller rolls.  I bring 2 smaller rolls per section in a sandwich ziplock.  This provides extra in case of emergencies.  Next, I bring about 15-20 wet wipes in a second sandwich ziplock.  I add a small hand sanitizer bottle.  For the dirty toilet paper, I put one sandwich ziplock inside a second one to double bag it.  When we get to town, we can throw out the inner bag and the outer bag become the next section’s inner bag.  Finally, all that goes into a USPS Tyvek mailing envelope so you can’t see what’s in it.   

a toilet kit laid out to see the contents

  1. Leave Outdoor Spaces the Same or Better than you Found Them

We all get outside to enjoy nature, see wildlife, peep at the wildflowers, and to feel good exercising our bodies.  It’s time to protect those spaces for others coming after us and for ourselves. 


If you’re annoyed at the amount of toilet paper flowers you see, start by looking at your own habits.  See what you can change yourself.  Then, once you adjust your own habits, help your friends do better for our outdoor spaces and the wildlife that lives there.  If you have a trash bag and protective gloves, you can clean up after others if you want to go to the next level.


It all starts with a few people saying no, this toilet paper trash is not ok. 


There is no reason to leave or bury TP outside any longer.  Let’s all do ourselves a favor, opt into reusable options, pack out TP and wipes, and teach others to do the same.

Reading next

Choosing and Using the Right Sleeping Bag by Jim Sutherland
Cloud Peak Wilderness Trip Report by Francisco Miller

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